All eyes will be on Equatorial Guinea on 17, January, 2015 as the 16 African countries trade tackles in the next three weeks to determine who becomes the new king of African football. However, soccer loving Nigerians would be sad that Africa champions, the Super Eagles, won’t be in action to defend their title, won two years ago in South Africa after their poor performance at the last Africa Nations Cup qualifying group matches.Though many Africa football fans are not happy that Super Eagles will not be part of the tournament, some football observers feel that with the likes of South Africa, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Cameroon, Burkina Faso and Algeria, this year’s edition will live up to expectations in terms of standard of play and quality of players coming from Europe to serve their nations.Despite the absence of powerhorses such as Nigeria, Egypt and Morocco in this year’s Africa Cup of Nations, some observers have tipped Ivory Coast to lift the AFCON trophy. Although the venue, Equatorial Guinea, does not evoke good memories fan them as the country was one of the joint hosting nations when the Elephants of Ivory Coast lost out in the finals three years ago.With a coach who has won the AFCON before at the same venue (Frenchman Hervé Renard) , they have an advantage theoretically. Players such as Gervinho of AS Rome, Yaya Toure of Manchester City and Solomon Kalou of Hertha Berlin of Germany are some of the players to watch in the 23-man squad representing Ivory Coast in the tournament.South Africa’s Bafana Bafana are another team to look out for in the competition. The South Africans surprised many during the AFCON qualifying series. The way they played Nigeria at Uyo International Stadium, Akwa- Ibom, was totally the opposite of a team that failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.It is their first qualification for a major tournament, without being hosts, in a long time. They must fancy their chances with their new coach, Ephraim Mashaba.When a coach can afford to leave a player like Ajax Amsterdam star Thulani Serero from his team, one can respect their chances and see them as favourites. Spurred on further by the sad loss of their emblematic and charismatic goalkeeper, Senzo Meyiwa, they are psychological favourites, as the Zambians were three years ago.Drawn in group C, in the company of Senegal, Algeria and Ghana, South Africa must be having some headaches as regards their prospects but, should they qualify out of this group, they should be near unbeatable.Ghana’s Black Stars are coming to Equatorial Guinea with a new boss, Avram Grant. Though lately in crisis, on and off the pitch, only a fool would bet against this multi-talented nation. Ghana’s team are set to be different in composition from the 2014 World Cup team. Coach Avram Grant has chosen to ignore Kevin-Prince Boateng, Sulley Muntari and Michael Essien. Africans should be ready to see a fighting Ghana with a point to prove.Asamoah Gyan and Jordan Ayew are two players that can be catalysts to the team’s success formula. Possible problems might be how the new technical crew copes with the team and the special conditions that will surround this particular edition of the AFCON and the group of death they find themselves. There will be pressure to win from first game. A slip up in the group of death would be hard to make up.Frenchman Alain Giresse is the coach of Senegal that has a huge French-based player contingency. Gradually but steadily this team have been rebuilding and, in Papiss Demba Cissé of Newcastle, they have a lethal striker who does not need too many invitations to score.Surprisingly, they have decided to drop Demba Ba of Chelsea and now Besiktas fame. This and their erratic defensive frailties are where they could struggle a bit. If they can find a way to close any defensive gaps and give enough supply to Cisse and his generals up front, opponents will struggle against them.Africa’s number one, Algeria, are coming with 18 of the 23 players that did Africa proud in Brazil, especially against Germany. Africa’s most enterprising and improved team qualified with a five consecutive match winning streak. Whether they live up to it in Equatorial Guinea is another question. With France-born coach Christian Gourcuff at the helm, expect some creative play. They are tactically well rounded, technical and have a perfect mix of defensive and offensive play that permits them a blistering transition from defence to attack.The Northern Africa country can play possession football as well and combine in style. Unlike most African Nations, they can vary their game and mix it up in segmented periods. It is little wonder they had no problems qualifying.Commenting on the absence of Eagles, former Super Eagles coach, Adegboye Onigbinde and ex-Nigeria winger, Adokie Amiesimaka, lamented the country’s failure to qualify for the 2015 AFCON in Equatorial Guinea. Onigbinde and Amiesimaka decried the Eagles’ approach in the qualifying series. “I’m not surprised that we have found ourselves in this situation. We needed to get it right from the beginning. Whoever fails to plan plans to fail,” Onigbinde said. He added: “It’s not a new thing; we have lost on so many occasions. As usual, we will complain and fail to address issues which made us fail. We don’t learn and we just expect miracles. But God has shown that even if he gives you several opportunities, He knows when to give others their chance to shine. It’s so unfortunate.”Amesimaka lamented that the team did not exhibit sufficient skills in the match and that the defenders played as if they were playing with so much pressure hanging on their necks.The 1980 Africa Cup of Nations winner said: “They did not prosecute the qualifying series with flair, confidence and good football skills that had been the hallmark of a Super Eagles team. We need to learn from this and resurrect our football through the youth ranks where young players can be well managed and groomed to become quality players,” he said.First Bank Football Club’s goalkeeper trainer, David Dosu, said that the absence of Africa champions in this year’s Nations Cup may not bring glamour and excitement to the Nigerian football fans and some African countries who are in love with Eagles’ style of play.“It is sad that we don’t defend our title in this year’s Africa Nations Cup. There is no excitement about the competition among Nigerian fans because Eagles are not taking part. I believe that the Confederation of Africa Football, CAF, and many African countries will miss Nigeria. Either we like it or not, Nigeria is a football playing nation that makes the tournament tick and glamorous not only in Africa but also in the FIFA organised football tournament. With the absence of Egypt, Morocco and Nigeria in this year’s tournament, CAF may be worried but there is nothing they can do about it,” he said.The former Ebiede FC goalkeeper trainer noted that the hosts particularly will miss Eagles because many soccer fans in Equatorial Guinea and some football fans in Africa are not happy over Eagles’ failure to defend their title this year.GROUP MATCHES •Saturday 17 January Equatorial Guinea vs Congo18:00 Gabon vs Burkina Faso 21:00•Sunday 18 January Zambia vs Congo DR 18:00 Tunisia vs Cape Verde 21:00•Monday 19 January Ghana vs Senegal 18:00 Algeria vs South Africa 21:00•Tuesday 20 January 2015 Côte d’Ivoire vs Guinea 18:00 Mali vs Cameroon 21:00•Wednesday 21 January Burkina Faso vs Equatorial Guinea 18:00 Congo vs Gabon 21:00•Thursday 22 January Zambia vs Tunisia 18:00 Cape Verde Islands vs Congo DR 21:00•Friday 23 January 2015 Ghana vs Algeria 18:00 South Africa vs Senegal 21:00•Saturday 24 January Côte d’Ivoire vs Mali 18:00 Cameroon vs Guinea 21:00•Sunday 25 January 2015 Burkina Faso vs Congo 20:00 Equatorial Guinea vs Gabon 20:00•Monday 26 January Congo DR vs Tunisia 20:00 Cape Verde Islands vs Zambia 20:00•Tuesday 27 January 2015 South Africa vs Ghana 20:00 Senegal vs Algeria 20:00•Wednesday 28 January 2015 Cameroon vs Côte d’Ivoire 20:00 Guinea vs Mali .20:00
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